sat 19/10/2019

The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic | reviews, news & interviews

The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

Katie Mitchell delivers Chekhov's masterpiece with devastating power

Dark night of the soul: Ranevskaya (Kate Duchêne) and Trofimov (Paul Hilton) await their fate Stephen Cummiskey

Ghosts are walking at the Young Vic. Katie Mitchell’s stark, startling production of Chekhov’s final lament is not just an evocation of a lost era, but a summoning of the spirits haunting Vicki Mortimer’s chilling sepulchral mansion. This is a Cherry Orchard cast into shadow – literal and figurative – but pulsing with furious energy. The past will not go gentle into that good night; it calls out in a keening cry.

At just one hour 50, Simon Stephens’ taut adaptation combines elegy with economy. The stripped-back text suits Mitchell’s absolute clarity of purpose, although the excised repetition does deprive us of the agonising experience of witnessing the family sleepwalking to disaster over a languid summers cyclical denial. Salvation is always an illusion in a world this bitingly bleak.

The Cherry Orchard, Young VicDebt-laden aristo Ranevskaya (Kate Duchêne) is suffused with grief long before facing the loss of her ancestral estate and its precious cherry orchard, mourning her drowned son in visceral paroxysms. His enshrined nursery is a constant reminder of fatal consequences: his death occurred while Ranevskaya was embarking upon a profligate affair. Yet Chekhov deftly captures the gulf between awareness of harmful behaviour and ability to diverge from it – delivered with urgent resonance by Stephens.

Equally self-destructive are Ranevskaya’s brother Leonid (Angus Wright), futilely clinging to outmoded snobbery, and her daughters, diffident Varya (Natalie Klamar, pictured above) and fervid Anya (Catrin Stewart), pursuing ill-fated romance with socially mobile businessman Lopakhin (Dominic Rowan) and eternal student Trofimov (Paul Hilton) respectively. Housemaid Dunyasha (Sarah Ridgeway) is wooed by bumbling clerk Yepikhodov (Hugh Skinner), but is drawn inexorably to predatory, callous servant Yasha (Tom Mothersdale).

Although possessed of wry wit, this Cherry Orchard bracingly depicts the carnage of change, particularly in Yasha’s cruel treatment of doddery manservant Firs (Gawn Grainger), absurd personification of a dying way of life. Hilton (pictured below) demonstrates how belief in a revolutionary future can strip one of empathy for those in the present, while Rowan’s serf-turned-millionaire graduates from offering tone-deaf advice to enacting feudal vengeance. Nor are the sufferers of this reversal of fortune allowed to claim uncomplicated victim status; when backed into a corner, they use intimate knowledge to eviscerate.

The Cherry Orchard, Young VicOft-cartoonish governess Charlotte (Sarah Malin) and mooching toff Simeonov-Pischik (Stephen Kennedy) benefit from this unsentimental, psychologically grounded approach, the former an androgynous, brusque cynic, the latter a candid study in dogged delusion. Most striking is Duchêne’s Ranevskaya, sometimes a grand dame indulgence, here sensual, erratic and rivetingly manipulative.

The murky naturalism is splintered with Mitchell’s striking stylistic elements, which variously underpin the achingly human tragedy and occasionally detract from it. Yet Chekhov's fatalistic desolation is conveyed with exceptional potency. “A whole new world will open up in front of us,” predicts Anya, and that reads not as rebirth, but descent into a terrifying chasm of the unknown.

 

MORE CHEKHOV ON THEARTSDESK

The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre (2011). Zoë Wanamaker (pictured below) shines in Howard Davies's murky production of Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard, Sovremennik, Noël Coward Theatre (2011). Russians soar in third, and final, offering of their first-ever London season

Uncle Vanya, The Print Room (2012). Iain Glen stars in a version of Chekhov at his most tenderly intimate

A Provincial Life, National Theatre Wales (2012). Moments of visual beauty punctuate a Chekhov adaptation that struggles to find its focus

Three Sisters, Young Vic (2012) Benedict Andrews' energetic update is stronger on ensemble work than individual performances

Uncle Vanya, Vakhtangov Theatre Company (2012). Anti-naturalistic Russian Chekhov buries humanity under burlesque and mannerism

Uncle Vanya, Vaudeville Theatre. Anna Friel, Laura Carmichael and Ken Stott shine bright in Lindsay Posner's production of Chekhov's drama

Longing, Hampstead Theatre (2013). William Boyd's dramatisation of two Chekhov stories with Iain Glen and Tamsin Greig is more pleasant than towering

Uncle Vanya/Three Sisters, Wyndham's Theatre (2014). Quiet truth in finely observed ensemble Chekhov from the Mossovet State Academic Theatre

Winter Sleep. Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Cannes Palme d'Or winner, based on Chekhov short stories, is huge in every sense

The Seagull, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (2015). Strikingly staged Chekhov continues a strong season in the park

Uncle Vanya, Almeida Theatre (2016). Lengthy Chekhov revival/reappraisal is largely a knockout

Young Chekhov, National Theatre (2016). Jonathan Kent's three-play Chekhovathon builds to a shattering climax

Wild Honey, Hampstead Theatre (2016). Early Chekhov begins strongly then falls away

Chekhov deftly captures the gulf between awareness of harmful behaviour and ability to diverge from it

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

Yeah, spot on, it was brilliant. The world of the haunted house is a genius frame for this play and all the staging choices fit into that perfectly. Angus Wright and Kate Duchene are especially riveting to watch, in a totally compelling evening.

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